The 2018 college football season officially begins on Saturday, Aug. 25, and it’s time to finalize preseason predictions and place a few bets on over/under win totals for the upcoming year. With the start of the season right around the corner, Athlon asked two editors (Steven Lassan and Mitch Light) to provide their favorite over and under pick from all 10 conferences. Additionally, both editors provided their five favorite overall over/under college football win total bets for the 2018 season.
Over: Florida State 7.5
Everything that could go wrong seemed to go that way for the Seminoles last season. But under new coach Willie Taggart, expect Florida State to push for nine or 10 victories. There’s a solid core of talent still in the program, and Taggart’s offense can lean on a deep stable of backs, headlined by sophomore Cam Akers.
Under: Virginia 5
The Cavaliers were one of the ACC’s biggest surprises last season. In coach Bronco Mendenhall’s second year, Virginia improved its win total by four games from 2016. While the program seems to be trending in the right direction, Mendenhall’s team has to replace a couple of key cogs from last year, including quarterback Kurt Benkert and defenders Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser. With a new quarterback and concerns in the trenches, I’d play the under here.
Over: NC State 7
NC State catches a break by not playing Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Pitt or Duke — the top five teams (according to our picks at Athlon Sports) in the Coastal Division. Also, the Pack’s two most difficult games (other than at Clemson) are at home — vs. West Virginia and Florida State.
Under: Virginia Tech 8.5
It’s dangerous to bet against a Justin Fuente team, but the Hokies suffered some key setbacks on defense this offseason that make me question how legitimate of a contender they will be in the Coastal Division. There are a lot of potential land mines on the schedule — enough that I can envision Tech losing four games.
Over: Iowa State 6.5
Iowa State is trending up under coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones return one of college football’s top running backs in David Montgomery, and the defense should rank among the best in the Big 12 with six returning starters. Iowa State does play swing games versus Iowa, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas on the road. However, even if the Cyclones lose those four games and the Sept. 15 matchup versus Oklahoma, that still gets this program to 7-5 and over the 6.5 mark.
Under: Texas Tech 6
Kansas or Oklahoma State are interesting here, but I like the Red Raiders to push on six or win five games. The strength of coach Kliff Kingsbury’s team could be a defense that showed marked improvement in 2017 and brings back nine starters. It’s hard to doubt a Texas Tech offense, but there’s a revamped receiving corps and uncertainty at quarterback. The Red Raiders have two tossup non-conference games (Ole Miss and Houston), along with road trips to Oklahoma State, TCU, Iowa State and Kansas State. Also, of Texas Tech’s six victories last fall, three came by seven points or less. Those close wins were certainly aided by a +14 turnover margin in victories – the highest total of any Big 12 team.
Over: TCU 7.5
I really like this TCU team, and I like the way the Frogs’ schedule sets up. Let’s assume a loss to Ohio State, even in Arlington. After that, I’ll give them a loss at home to Oklahoma (far from a sure thing). Beyond that, I just can’t see this team losing three more games, especially with some key swing games (Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State) at home.
Under: Kansas 3
Kansas won one game last year, by 22 points over an FCS team (SE Missouri State) that went 3–8. The Jayhawks’ closest league loss was by 10 points, at home vs. Kansas State. No other game was decided by fewer than 15 points. KU could show significant improvement in 2018 and still only win one or two games.
Over: Michigan 9
Michigan has a tough schedule, but the personnel is in place to win at least 10 games. The Wolverines return eight starters from a defense that allowed only 18.8 points a game last fall. The program’s biggest concern remains its offense, but there’s reason for optimism. The addition of quarterback Shea Patterson will provide a boost to a group that averaged just 25.2 points a game in 2017. With Penn State and Wisconsin visiting Ann Arbor, a loss at Ohio State or Michigan State still allows Michigan to hit the over.
Under: Illinois 3.5
Penn State (9.5) might be worth a look here, but Illinois (3.5) is the pick. The Fighting Illini open with two likely victories (Kent State and Western Illinois), but I’m struggling to find another contest where they will be favored to win. Third-year coach Lovie Smith does have some promising talent in the freshman/sophomore ranks. However, 3-9 might be the best-case scenario.
Over: Michigan 9
I’m still in the Jim Harbaugh camp, and I believe the Wolverines will break through in 2018 — or at least win 10 games. My forecast has Michigan at 10–2, with losses at Michigan State and at Ohio State. The opener at Notre Dame will be crucial, both for the team’s season and for the over/under mark of 10.
Under: Minnesota 5
I realize P.J. Fleck’s second team at Western Michigan made a huge jump (from one win to eight wins), but I don’t envision a similar leap in Year 2 at Minnesota. The Gophers were horrendous on offense last year — they scored 10 points or fewer in four of their final five games — and head into the 2018 season without a QB on the roster who has thrown a pass in an FBS game.
Over: Utah 7
Utah’s schedule is tough. The Utes play Washington, Stanford and Oregon from the North, have road games at Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA and Washington State, and make a non-conference trip to Northern Illinois (projected MAC West champ) in Week 2. While it won’t be easy, I think Utah can push USC for the South Division crown. Quarterback Tyler Huntley is primed for a breakout year, and the Utes are always strong on defense.
Under: Washington State 6.5
Mike Leach has to replace a record-setting quarterback and overcome the loss of standout defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. I don’t expect the Cougars to drop off drastically, but it may take six or seven games for the pieces to fall into place. My projections put Washington State at 6-6 and hitting the under mark.
Over: Colorado 4
The Buffs took a big step back last fall after winning the Pac-12 South title in 2017. I don’t envision significant improvement this season, but I do believe Colorado is good enough to win at least five games. The Buffs have home games against New Hampshire, UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State as well as a neutral site game against Colorado State. If the Buffs win four of those six, which they should, they would only need one more win in the other six games to hit the over.
Under: Washington 10.5
I think Washington is the best team in the Pac-12. I think Washington will win the Pac-12. But I also think it’s difficult to go undefeated in any league, especially when you play nine conference games. So assuming a loss to Auburn in Week 1 — which is far from a given — the Huskies would only need to lose one Pac-12 game to hit the under.
Over: Alabama 11
Sure, everything has go to right for Alabama to hit over 11, and it’s never easy to go undefeated in college football. However, look at the schedule. Where are the Crimson Tide going to lose? A loaded offense will allow Nick Saban plenty of time to find the right pieces to rebuild the defense into one of the best in college football once again. I’ll take Alabama to go 12-0 in the regular season.
Under: Missouri 7.5
I’ve got Missouri finishing 7-5, so this total just clips the under mark. The Tigers are loaded with firepower on offense, but I’m not sold on the hire of Derek Dooley as play-caller. Missouri’s defense gave up 31.8 points a game last fall and features concerns in the secondary and off the edge at end. The schedule also presents its share of obstacles. The Tigers catch Alabama in crossover play and take on South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee on the road. Additionally, Missouri has a non-conference trip to Purdue in Week 3 and a matchup versus Georgia in Week 4.
Over: Florida 7.5
I’m a big believer in Dan Mullen — and also a believer that Florida has solid talent. There is a big question at quarterback, but Mullen’s teams rarely do not get solid play out of that position. Nine wins wouldn’t surprise me.
Under: Arkansas 6
Chad Morris inherits a team that went 1–7 in the SEC in 2017, and I don’t see much improvement in the short team. There is only one sure win on the schedule (vs. Eastern Illinois in the opener). There are other games that Arkansas will be favored to win (at Colorado State and home games against North Texas, Tulsa and Vanderbilt), but none of those is a given.
Group of 5
Over: Tulane 5.5
Tulane finished 5-7 last fall but four of those losses came by six points or less. I expect a much-improved team this season, and the Green Wave will go bowling in coach Willie Fritz’s third year at the helm. Quarterback Jonathan Banks is primed for a breakout season and is surrounded by one of the AAC’s top offensive lines and receiving corps. With Memphis and Navy visiting Yulman Stadium, the Green Wave could pull off an upset (or two) and easily hit the over mark.
Under: USF 8.5
This pick is a bit risky. I like USF to get to 8-4, so nine wins and the over isn’t out of the question. However, without Quinton Flowers leading the way on offense and road trips to Temple and Houston, along with home matchups versus Georgia Tech, Tulane and UCF, there are plenty of land mines on this schedule to prevent a repeat of last year’s 10-2 mark.
Over: Tulsa 4
The Golden Hurricane regressed from 10 wins in 2016 to two wins last fall, but this team dealt with a ton of injuries and lost five games that came down to the final possession. I smell a bounce back.
Under: SMU 6
After showing steady progress each season under former coach Chad Morris, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mustangs took a small step back in Sonny Dykes’ first season.
Over: Marshall 7.5
I think FAU (9) or Marshall (7.5) are good plays here, but let’s go with the Thundering Herd. Coach Doc Holliday’s team won eight games last season and could be even better in 2018. A defense that returns nine starters ranks as one of the best in Conference USA, and there’s a strong supporting cast in place to support either Alex Thomson or Isaiah Green at quarterback. A non-conference schedule featuring trips to Miami (Ohio) and South Carolina, along with a home date against NC State is tough. However, outside of the Oct. 20 date against FAU, Marshall could be favored to win its remaining seven C-USA matchups.
Under: Rice 3
New coach Mike Bloomgren is inheriting a program in need of major repair. Rice won just one contest in 2017 and is breaking in a good chunk of talent on both sides of the ball. Outside of the opener against Prairie View and the Nov. 3 date against UTEP, I’m struggling to find wins for this team.
Over: UTSA 5
The Roadrunners were a disappointment a year ago — winning only six games — but keep in mind that four of their five losses came by seven points or fewer.
Under: UTEP 2.5
The Miners didn’t win a game in 2017, and only one of their 12 losses came by 14 points or fewer. Even with a jolt from a new coaching staff, this team will struggle to win more than two games.
Over: Buffalo 6.5
The Bulls showed marked improvement from 2016 to ’17 and should take another step forward this fall. Coach Lance Leipold’s program lost all six of its games last season by 10 points or less but also notched victories over Ohio and FAU. Buffalo’s offense should be explosive behind quarterback Tyree Jackson and All-America candidate Anthony Johnson at receiver. There are a few holes to fill on defense, but the offense can carry this team to at least seven wins.
Under: Bowling Green 5.5
I’m surprised to see Bowling Green listed at 5.5. Under coach Mike Jinks, the Falcons have won only six games over the last two years. The emergence of quarterback Jarret Doege and running back Andrew Clair should help an offense that averaged only 25.3 points a game last fall. However, big question marks remain on defense. This unit allowed over 500 yards a game in 2017 and has already suffered a setback after end David Konowalski was lost for the year due to injury. With road trips to Central Michigan, Akron, Ohio, Toledo, Georgia Tech and Oregon, along with home dates against Buffalo, Miami (Ohio) and Maryland, I’m struggling to find four wins on this schedule.
Over: Buffalo 6.5
Lance Leipold has won only 13 games in three years — after winning 109 in eight years at D-III power Wisconsin-Whitewater — but this is the year the Bulls turn the corner. UB went 6–6 last season, with four of the losses coming by four points or fewer and the two others by 10 points.
Under: Bowling Green 5.5
I don’t see a ton of reason for optimism after the Falcons went 2–10 a year ago. Bowling Green plays three Power 5 schools in non-conference action, putting even more pressure on this team to overachieve in league play.
Over: Colorado State 5.5
The Rams will have a new quarterback (K.J. Carta-Samuels) and a revamped offensive line, but coach Mike Bobo’s team has won at least seven regular season games in each of the last three years. Colorado State also catches San Jose State, Hawaii and Nevada in crossover play and doesn’t have to take on San Diego State or Fresno State.
Under: New Mexico 4
This program already dealt with offseason turmoil after coach Bob Davie served a 30-day suspension in the spring. Even though financial concerns surround New Mexico right now, a slow start could mean the end to Davie’s tenure. The schedule features road trips to New Mexico State and Wisconsin in non-conference play and San Diego State and Fresno State in crossover action with the West Division. With quarterback uncertainty and concerns on defense, the Lobos will struggle to exceed last year’s three wins.
Over: Air Force 4.5
The Falcons have lost fewer than five games only one time Troy Calhoun’s 11 years at the school. That’s enough data for me.
Under: Boise State 10
The Broncos have a few tricky non-conference games (at Troy, at Oklahoma State) that could make it tough to hit the over. This is a very good team — but Boise State was very good last year and won “only” nine games in the regular season.
Over: Louisiana 5
I like the play of South Alabama (3.5) here as well, but let’s go with the Ragin’ Cajuns. New coach Billy Napier inherits some promising pieces on offense to build around, including running back Trey Ragas and a solid foundation in the trenches. The defense is a major concern, but it can’t be much worse than the 2017 version that allowed 40 points a game. Grambling, Coastal Carolina, New Mexico State, Georgia State and South Alabama all visit Cajun Field in 2018. That’s five winnable games. Assuming the Ragin’ Cajuns win those five matchups, they will need a win at Texas State or ULM to hit the over. I think that’s a reasonable expectation.
Under: Georgia Southern 6.5
Georgia Southern played better after Chad Lunsford was promoted to interim coach, but I think it’s a little optimistic to go from two wins last season to six in 2018. Lunsford hired a good staff to get this program on track, and I like the hire of Bob DeBesse as offensive coordinator. However, with road trips to ULM, Georgia State, New Mexico State and Clemson, along with games versus Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy in Statesboro, 4-8 or 5-7 might be the best outcome for Lunsford’s first full year.
Over: South Alabama 3.5
The Jaguars return 13 starters from a team that won four games a year ago. Add in a bump from the new coaching staff — Steve Campbell was an underrated hire — and we have a team that should win at least five games.
Under: Georgia Southern 6.5
Georgia Southern played much better after Chad Lunsford took over on an interim basis last fall. The Eagles should be better in 2018, but I’m not sure this team is ready to win seven games.
Five Favorite Over/Under Bets for 2018
1. Florida State over 7.5
1. UTSA over 5
2. Tulane over 5.5
2. Kansas under 3
3. Georgia Southern under 6.5
3. Tulsa over 4
4. Bowling Green under 5.5
4. Colorado over 4
5. Alabama over 11
5. Bowling Green under 5.5